Often overlooked in South Carolina's formula for championship success is tremendous team defense.
This past weekend, USC overwhelmed Bucknell on the mound and at the plate, but nearly flawless defense played a key role as well in the three-game sweep (rout?) of the Bison at Carolina Stadium.
The Gamecocks committed just one error in 108 chances in three games compared to six miscues by Bucknell, compiling an impressive .991 fielding percentage in the process.
New starting shortstop Marcus Mooney was as good as advertised, superbly and smoothly handling 16 chances (7 putouts, 9 assists) without committing an error. When one of his throws was off target, the USC first baseman was able to scoop it up.
Sunday, the airtight defense meant freshman Wil Crowe had to throw just 76 pitches in 6.1 hitless innings against Bucknell.
"We played really good defense behind Wil and all the rest of our pitchers," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "It was just a clean game for our team and I couldn't be more proud of them."
Since USC's lone error was committed by centerfielder Tanner English in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader, the Gamecock infield executed for 27 innings without a hitch. Besides Mooney, second baseman Max Schrock handled all eight of his chances (5 putouts, 3 assists) and third baseman D.C. Arendas didn't make a bobble on his seven chances in Games 2 and 3 of the series.
Because of his keen defensive skills at the hot corner, Arendas should see plenty of action there as the season progresses with Joey Pankake occasionally moving to left field.
"We're very comfortable with the way D.C. plays defense," Holbrook said. "(Pankake) is going to play some in left and some at third. He's not going to be our everyday left fielder. I'm not ready to say that. He's an infielder by trade and he's become a darned good third baseman. But it's too difficult to sometimes DH D.C. knowing one of our better infielders is DHing. That's not smart coaching."
Holbrook beamed after Saturday's doubleheader sweep that one of the highlights for him was USC committing just one error in 18 innings.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Wil Crowe
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 3-0
OVERALL RECORD: 3-0 (13-10 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 5 in Baseball America, No. 10 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 14 in USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, No. 6 in Perfect Game USA.
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
Feb. 15 vs. Bucknell, W 17-4 (Game 1)
Feb. 15 vs. Bucknell, W 12-2 (Game 2)
Feb. 16 vs. Bucknell, W 12-0
PRESBYTERIAN CLASH TUESDAY: USC faces intrastate foe Presbyterian Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Carolina Stadium in the latest renewal of the Palmetto rivalry. The Blue Hose swept a Sunday doubleheader from Savannah State by the scores of 9-5 and 4-0 and come to Columbia with a 2-0 record.
Designated hitter Cam McRae went a combined 4-for-8 at the plate in the two games, while leftfielder Brandon Martin was 3-for-6 with three RBI, matching third baseman Jacob Midkiff for the team high in that category on the afternoon.
Three days later, Eastern Kentucky comes to Columbia for a three-game series starting Friday at 3 p.m. EKU lost two of three games at Alabama State this past weekend.
THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
Feb. 18 vs. Presbyterian, 4 p.m.
Feb. 21 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 3 p.m.
Feb. 22 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 4 p.m.
Feb. 23 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 1:30 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)
-- USC scored 41 runs on 39 hits in the Bucknell series. The Gamecocks hit .368 (39-for-106) with a .493 on-base percentage.
-- Kyle Martin was USC's leading hitter for the weekend with a .778 average (7-for-9), four RBI and six runs scored. His weekend included a career-high four hits in Sunday's 12-0 victory when he went 4-for-4 with two runs scored and a RBI.
-- Connor Bright had a team-high three doubles and seven RBI, while
Pankake and Schrock each scored eight runs.
-- The USC pitching staff combined for a team ERA of 2.00 with 32 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched. Bucknell hit just .186 in three games.
-- After hurling 5.0 scoreless innings on Saturday, Jordan Montgomery improved his career record to 13-2.
-- Bucknell had just one runner reach second base and none reach third base when Crowe was on the mound during his 6.1 innings. Crowe retired 13 consecutive Bucknell batters before exiting when he reached his pitch count.
-- Tanner English registered his eighth career triple on Saturday, putting him eighth on USC's all-time list. The school record for career triples is 13 held by Michael Campbell (2003-06). Only four USC players have reached double digits in triples.
-- Catcher Grayson Greiner led USC in total bases with 10, including a homer in Sunday's 12-0 whitewashing of the Bisons in the series finale. He also picked a Bucknell runner off second base from behind the plate.
-- Schrock tied a school record with four walks in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. He added two stolen bases in the nightcap and homered in Sunday's series finale.
-- Mooney grabbed firmly onto the shortstop job - starting all three games there against Bucknell - and the leadoff spot in the batting order. He hit .308 (4-for-13) with a .400 on-base percentage and scored four runs.
-- USC's three double-digit run totals is the first time since 1987 that the Gamecocks reached double digits in runs in all three games of a series.
-- Fifteen Gamecock players made their USC debut in the Bucknell series.